Friday, September 16, 2016

North Bank Habitat - East Boundary Ridge

Well, Mount Ranier Park was fun and all but it was time to say goodbye to the park and all its steep trails. Now that I'm back in Roseburg, it was time to say hello to the North Bank Habitat Management Area and all its steep trails.

Old man's beard graces a madrone tree
The Habitat is an old friend and I hike there quite a bit simply because it is so close to home. It's also a perfect place to hike on a morning when the alarm gets slept through, something that seems to happen with a bit more regularity now that I am retired. However, the North Bank, despite its relatively small acreage and low elevation, provides trails steep enough to do Mount Rainier National Park proud.

I hate hiking!
It is also a possibility that I hike the Habitat because I hate myself. Or at least, that thought occurred to me as I started out on the East Boundary Ridge Road. The freshly graded jeep road was the trail and without preamble, the route charged straight up a grassy hillside with virtually no shade. The tone was set in the first mile, when the trail gained 800 feet of elevation. From there, it was only about 500 feet more of climbing over 3 miles but who cares after legs are totally used up in that nasty first mile?

The snake wonders why I'm making that strange sound
When lacing up my boots at the trailhead, I had chatted with Mark, the Habitat's caretaker, and he warned me to be on the lookout for rattlesnakes as they had been unusually plentiful this year. Because the trail was ungodly steep, I felt compelled for some reason to stop and take a breather and also to take a few pictures of the valley below the trail. As I turned to resume hiking, I suddenly noticed a snake sunning itself a few inches from my foot. If a hiker screams a high-pitched girly yodel and nobody is there to hear him, he does not make a sound. Its nap disturbed by a high-octave hiker's wail that sounded like it might have come from another galaxy, the harmless gopher snake slithered off into the dry grass.

Ah, this is why we hike!

I rarely hike the the Habitat in the summer, I generally visit in winter or early spring. On this day, the hills were neither white with snow, nor green with sprouting thistles. Instead, the hills were golden brown with dried grass swaying in the breeze gently blowing over the ridge crest. A late summer hike was somewhat on the exotic side for me, seeing as how I was hiking there out of my normal Habitat season. The sun was out, the slightly hazy sky was cloudless, and fortunately the temperature was not particularly hot, especially with a cool breeze washing up from the valleys.

My route on the East Boundary Ridge
After a steady uphill with occasional really steep pitches, the North Boundary Ridge Road was reached. That was fine and all, but there still was about a mile of some of that nasty uphill stuff yet to go. While trudging up the steep North and East Boundary Ridge(s), I did wonder what it was about hiking that makes me think I enjoy it. My leg muscles were burning, my heart was hammering its way out of my rib cage, my eyes were stinging from a combination of sweat and sunscreen rolling into them, and I was breathing heavier than an asthmatic water buffalo. Why, oh, why do I hike?

Scott Mountain 
Well, from the North Boundary Ridge, it was quite the view, thanks to all that elevation gain I'd been whining and sniveling about. I was looking down the East Fork Jackson Creek valley, with the small creek running into the North Umpqua River, a small piece of which was just visible. In the river's valley, farms flanked either side and rolling hills marched on and on into the distance. On the other side of the ridge, the forests sloped down towards the town of Sutherlin with Plat I Reservoir showing a small corner of itself. Buzzards floated and circled above me and I wondered with more than a little concern what they knew that I didn't. At any rate, the wide and expansive panorama hammered home exactly why I hike. Even though I've seen this vista many times, it never gets old and after an appreciative view soak, I actually felt rejuvenated in both body and spririt.

Hah! I'm pretty brave saying I felt rejuvenated when the trail was all downhill from the Blacktail Basin Road junction, but downhill can rejuvenate as much as a great view and I had the best of both worlds on the descent. The Soggy Bottoms Road headed gently down into the West Fork Jackson Creek valley on a jeep track dotted with bear poop. I'd run into a "rattlesnake" already so maybe I'd run into a bear. Naturally, I just about pooped my pants when a wall of black fur crossed the trail about 50 yards in front of me. BEAR! Well, on closer inspection it was not really a bear but a black cow who took off in terror upon hearing unnatural noises emanating from one startled hiker.

The North Bank throws some shade
As the trail dropped into the valley, big-leaf maples arched over the trail, providing welcome shade as I ambled through a park-like glade of stately oak and maple trees. Mount Rainier has nothing over the North Bank's steep trails (unless you consider the totally awesome scenery and the big glacier-clad volcano thingy). And despite all the mumbling, grumbling, whining, sobbing, and the occasional squealing screams of terror, it's good to hike!

It's good to hike!
For more pictures of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.


  1. Yeah, when slogging up an impossibly steep slope I often have thoughts of "I hate hiking." Luckily the great views make me forgot all the pain and suffering it took to get there. Enjoyed your latest hiking tale!

  2. Yup, all us hikers are nuts to a certain degree. Otherwise, life would be boring. But we get to see and experience what most folks never will - nature at its best! Keep hiking, don't ever retire from that!!!